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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Possibly someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are instances when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and often painful condition called barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

You normally won’t even notice gradual pressure changes. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in day to day situations. The crackling sound is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will usually be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may be helpful.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that usually will work.)

Medications And Devices

There are medications and devices that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, as well as the extent of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real trick.

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

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